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‘Bug’ is a brilliant production that raises many questions

From the hideous polyester motel bedspread to the too-bright digital bedside alarm clock to the navel-picking pizza delivery guy, the production crew of Wolf’s Head Theater Company — a subsidiary of the widely known and praised Upper Peninsula Shakespeare Festival — spares no expense in regards to detail or authenticity on the set of “Bug,” written by Tracy Letts and directed for the Ore Dock Brewing Company stage by Jamie Weeder.

“Bug” is a play that deals heavily in domestic violence and abuse, mental illness, PTSD, and addiction among many other troubling and engaging themes. Jessica “Red” Bays — whom many will recognize as Blanche from last summer’s UP Shakes production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” — gives a stand-out performance as the jaded yet fragile and impressionable Agnes White, a woman who bears the scars of an unimaginable trauma whose closest friend is a fellow waitress and addict named R.C. (Monica Kester Nordeen).

It is R.C. who sets the plot of “Bug” in motion by introducing our two main characters: her work friend Agnes White and her new acquaintance and that night’s party date Peter Evans (Alastar Dimitrie). The two are introduced in Agnes’s motel room where the entirety of the play takes place; though, despite the static scenery, I remained enthralled by the performances of not just the central characters played by Bays and Dimitrie but also by Nordeen as R.C., Christopher Scott Leith as Agnes’s abusive and larger-than-life ex-husband Jerry Goss, Monet Chartier as the inscrutable and problematic Dr. Sweet, and even Anthony Reynolds in his brief but hysterical role as Pizza Harris.

So little of what we learn of Peter Evans can be discerned with any confidence by the audience as illusion, reality, or some combination of the two, and, after seeing his unparalleled performances in both UP Shakes’ “Frankenstein” and “A Streetcar Named Desire,” I can’t imagine an actor better suited to play the perturbed, enigmatic, and hyper-paranoid character of Peter Evans than Dimitrie. His performance in “Bug” is charming, compelling, and uncomfortable in the best sense of the word, and his on-stage chemistry with Bays is as endearing as it is troubling for the literal and figurative mess it gets their characters into.

Director Jamie Weeder delivers, yet again, another brilliant, thoughtful, and visionary production for those lucky enough to comprise the audience. Wolf’s Head Theater Company makes a strong and promising debut with Tracy Letts’s “Bug,” a play that hits hard and leaves the audience with some big-picture questions, such as: Is it better to have someone to talk to about nothing of importance than to have no one to talk to at all? When is it okay to give up the search for something sacred that’s been lost? And how much of our reality are we willing to sacrifice in exchange for love and companionship?

Monica Nordeen as R.C and Jessica “Red” Bays as Agnes perform in Wolfs Head Theater Company’s (a subsidiary of Upper Peninsula Shakespeare Festival) production of “Bug” by Tracy Letts at the Ore Dock Brewing Company (www.upshakes.org)

Get your tickets to see “Bug” online at UPShakes.org for remaining performances at the Ore Dock Brewing Company Sunday, Wednesday and Aug. 5. All shows are at 7:30 p.m.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Brenna Womer is a fiction and creative nonfiction writer living in the Upper Peninsula. She is an associate editor at Passages North.